October 15, 2014
by James Way
Tango Housing in Sweden by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planers with FFNS Architects

In 2010 the New York City population over the age of 65 was just shy of one million, three million if one includes those over 45 years old. Forecasts predict that the senior population will grow 20% in the next 15 years. With the former and current city administrations focusing on affordable housing, housing for the elderly is moving into the spotlight.

Architect, writer, and researcher Susanne Schindler, and landscape architect Nancy Owens, RLA, LEED AP, principal at Nancy Owens Studio, collaborated with Team R8 for the Making Room design study, which explored new housing unit arrangements to best meet current demographics and lifestyles. Their proposal suggested a mix of housing types based on single room occupancies with shared amenities that could be reconfigured to accommodate singles, couples with work space, and extended families. This model can provide the elderly with community and privacy. Landscaping­ – surfaces, elevation heights, and sequences­ – is an important component to encourage activity and presence in the community. Both Schindler and Owens agree that laws need to be changed to legally support the development of these new living arrangements.

Tackling these roadblocks head on, Patrick Han, AIA, vice president of the CoHousing Association of the US, has been working with cohousing groups and organizations to facilitate community growth. Cohousing is a community-based development of private home ownership and shared communal spaces and costs. Rather than design community developments for the elderly only, Han suggests a mixed-community for diversity and vitality. Growing out of Europe, the cohousing movement took root in the U.S. in the late 1980s, and has since established more than 111 communities with another 100 in the works. Han is spearheading the first for New York City.

Thomas Knorr-Siedow, partner at Urban Plus and a professor at Brandenburg Technical University Cottus, visited from Germany with first-hand experience with radical forms of community living – from squats to cohousing and variations in between. Knorr-Siedow was the most blunt: In a nutshell, housing is expensive and we’re getting old and going to die. With an academic background in planning, housing, and neighborhood development, Knorr-Siedow teaches on socio-cultural impacts of planning. He, too, showed compelling examples of small apartment units with shared amenities, even communal dining facilities. Some of the more radical forms of community development are coming under scrutiny for their financial practices­ – how one buys, uses, sells­ – the hoops anyone living in a communal development is privy to.

Alternative housing forms seem to be a viable answer, but micro-units, shared housing, or cohousing designs will not accommodate if laws aren’t changed to allow these new typologies to take root. And it’s been quiet on the policy front for a while.

James Way, Assoc. AIA, Marketing Manager at Dattner Architects, frequently contributes to eOculus

Event: Alternative Housing Forms for Aging in Place, from Co-Housing to Micro Units
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.08.14
Speakers: Susanne Schindler, Architect, Writer, Author, Researcher; Nancy Owens, RLA, LEED AP, Principal, Nancy Owens Studio; Patrick B. Han, AIA, Vice-President, CoHousing Association of the US; Thomas Knorr-Siedow, Partner, Urban Plus, Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus (Berlin); and Ruth Finkelstein, ScD, Associate Director, Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center (moderator)
Organized by: AIANY Design for Aging Committee and the AIANY Housing Committee
Sponsored by: James McCullar Architecture



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